Tag Archives: Comfrey

That’s just my bucket of Comfrey Tea

When asked by my granddaughter, Lexi, “what died in here!” what do you think my answer was? Last month I made FPE (fermented plant extract) with some of my comfrey, my post Comfrey Fermentation outlined the procedure. The result was a greenish liquids that smelled a bit like canned green beans with a slight alcoholic edge. This month I decided to try making just straight comfrey tea. Not the kind you drink but basically broken down (rotted) comfrey leaves.

Comfrey Plant ready to be harvested

Comfrey Plant ready to be harvested

This past Monday I went around to all of my comfrey plants and cut out all of the flower stalks then pulled off about half of the leaves from each plant.ComfreyI ended up with a good 5 gallon bucket of comfrey which I then firmly compressed by liberal application of my foot, I stood one-legged in the bucket.Comfrey3After filling with water to the level of the compressed leaves I added a second bucket with holes drilled in the bottom. Comfrey5 Comfrey4This bucket was then weighted down with a large brick. Not much happened the first day, I had read that due to its low fiber content comfrey breaks down amazingly fast, so I was wondering when something was gonna happen. When I checked on it yesterday (day 2) there was a couple of inches of oily looking brownish muck in the upper bucket but no smell that I noticed. Everything I had read also talked about the stink and I was thinking “yeah right” then I kicked the bucket a bit. Oh Lordy!!!! what a vile disgusting reek emanated from the tiny drops that landed on my hand! I ain’t talking anaerobic compost pile stink, Lexi hit the nail on the head. This stuff smells like DEATH! Now I’m kinda scared to load it up in the backpack sprayer and dose my orchard with it, the cops might come over looking for dead bodies. I’m thinking this stuff is gonna be a soil drench application possibly followed by a lacto spray to try to neutralize the stench before the neighbors call the authorities.

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Mulching for Max

Gardening in the harsh desert climate of Las Vegas really brings to the forefront the necessity of utilizing every drop of moisture as efficiently as possible. The Fruity Chicken orchard/garden utilizes several techniques to help maximize this utilization. My baseline moisture is supplied by a sub-surface irrigation system over the entire area whose primary source of water is greywater from laundry. This system does have a supplemental input of fresh water of approximately 35 gallons every other day during the height of the summer which I estimate to be about 1/3 of the total input. This freshwater input tapers down to 35 gallons a week in the fall and 35 gallons a month through the winter months. My orchard/garden area is currently 20′ x 40′, due to the 6″ to 12″ layer of mulch over the general area the soil stays reasonably moist year round. On the the other hand my raised beds are above this moisture source necessitating a drip system to keep seedlings and shallow rooted veggies thriving.

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The drip system in my main 4’x12′ beds is 3 laterals running the length of the bed with .9 GPH emitters spaced @ 12″ intervals, this system runs 1 hour a day early in the morning applying roughly 35 gallons a day. Up to this point in the season this system has thoroughly watered those beds and resulted in enough seepage coming out of the downhill end to keep the comfrey planted there to scavenge nutrients flourishing. With the recent increase in heat the moist area has been noticeably receding, rather than increasing the run time on the drip system I have been focusing on mulching to reduce loss through evaporation. In the picture above the green mulch that was planted initially can be seen, this is primarily red wheat which has really exceeded my expectations.

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That green mulch gets cut down about every other week and laid between the crop plantings. Now that the heat is coming on that mulch just isn’t enough so I have started supplementing it with straw.

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My experience with trying to mulch with straw hasn’t been positive but this time appears to be different. In the past I had done things the traditional way, spreading straw over the whole bed then pulling that mulch aside to do my plantings. This method always resulted in straw blown around everywhere except where it was needed, due to already being used to cutting and placing small amounts of green mulch I just kinda kept up the same process. Rather than throwing down a big ole flake off the bale I have been sitting down next to my beds with a pile of straw, picking up a handful, tearing it in half and then sorta weaving in between the established plants. This method has resulted in the mulch being where it is really needed and staying in place, a side benefit is that I am spending quality time up close and personal with my garden. Pests get spotted sooner and so far have been able to be controlled by manual means rather than using chemicals. Additionally it is right in my face when a plant is struggling a bit allowing me to either adjust my spray mixture or do some spot amendments such as a leaf or two of comfrey smushed up and pushed under the mulch for a bit of boost.

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Comfrey Fermentation

My next venture into Korean Natural Farming techniques is FPJ aka Fermented Plant Juice. Comfrey01 Comfrey02 Comfrey03 Comfrey04 Comfrey05 Comfrey06 Comfrey

The Comfrey I got from Coe’s Comfrey last fall are really doing well this year. In fact I should have paid more attention to where I had planted it, apparently I missed some when transplanting them out before tilling the area for the first of my new 4’x12′ beds and now there are little comfrey plants coming up all over. Those little plants are going to be allowed to get a little bigger before they get potted up and either transplanted or given to one of the Master Gardeners at the UNCE orchard. Comfrey Comfrey09

The first harvest of leaves resulted in a 1 gallon bucketful weighing a pound and a half. Four days later you can’t even tell anything was cut from the plants, this stuff grows like mad and thrives on high nitrogen sources like raw chicken manure and straight urine! Comfrey11Comfrey12

After mixing/macerating the comfrey at a rate of 2/1 with brown sugar the volume was greatly reduced. Comfrey14 Comfrey13

Four days later and the mix has started to funk up a bit but hasn’t gotten stinky….yet. Comfrey15

While not strictly according to the procedure laid out by Bryan McGrath in this excellent FPJ outline:  I added 3 cups of  dechlorinated water because it seemed like the right thing to do. At this point my Comfrey concoction smells sorta like canned spinach.

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Then it was back into my newest hidey-hole to ferment until next weekend. If my brew starts developing the dreaded hydrogen-sulfide rotten egg smell it’s going to have to move up to the orchard to escape detection by my sweety Karen.

 

 

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Progress, Obsession, or Therapy?

Thanks in large part to the moderation of the weather I have been getting more hours in at The Fruity Chicken on the weekends. I like to think I am making steady progress on my goal of making my 1/4th of 1/2 of an acre as productive and interconnected a Chicken Ranch/Orchard/Garden as possible. To that end I have been making major changes to my Chicken Run.

Chicken Yard

A panoramic view of the Chicken Yard at The Fruity Chicken

Their are no big changes in philosophy in the management of the chicken run this year, just minor refinements.

Chicken Yard

The Juvenile Pen

Brian and I moved the Juvenile Pen from it’s former place against the block wall out to the wire fence that separates the Orchard Area from the Chicken Run. This change moves what had become a bit of a stinky area further away from the neighbors and also gives access to the pen without opening the gate to the Chicken Run.

Forage Area

The Forage Area

On the opposite (West) end from the Juvenile Pen a third of the Chicken Run has been fenced off to create a forage/pasture area. This area has been tilled and seeded with Scratch, Pigeon Feed, Buckwheat, and Dry-land Pasture mix. The Scratch has milo. sorghum, and corn seed; the Pigeon Feed has various field peas, oats, wheat, millet, and safflower; the buckwheat is pretty much buckwheat; and I have no idea what is in the Dry-land pasture mix but it sounded good.

Run

The open area where the Juvenile Pen used to be

Originally I had planned on running a wire fence from the corner of the Juvenile Pen to the block wall separating the run into 3 roughly equal sections. The central area, containing the coop, would be occupied all of the time while the flock would have access to one of the side areas at a time on a rotational basis. That plan is still under review. Currently I am leaning towards leaving the infrastructure as is and only giving the chickens access to the pasture area for short (1 or 2 hours) a couple times a week while leaving the West end behind the Juvenile Pen open. In that area I would like build and place some breeding pens like Barbara’s over at The Crowing Hen. For some reason certain members of my family, co-workers, and friends think that this is turning into a bit of an obsession.

 

 

Over in the Orchard Area things are focused on cleaning up so that I can rework the planting sites for the trees I lost this year.

Clean Up

Pumpkins left over after removing the vines

The Comfrey  I planted this year are doing well.

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One of my Bocking #4 Comfrey Plants

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Comfrey Plant I got from the Korean Nursery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The plant above on the left is one of the one year old plants I got from Coe’s Comfrey which is a Bocking #4 variety while he one on the right was purchased at a Korean Nursery in Pomona CA. It is pretty obvious they are different varieties, the Bocking #4 grows much faster and has larger leaves.

The Mulberry trees are doing great as well.

Mulberry

Mulberry Tree just outside of the Chicken Run

Mulberry

The Mulberry to the West of the Orchard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both of these trees came from the same Korean Nursery as the unknown variety of Comfrey shown above. They are growing fantastically, there are two others Mulberry Trees from another source in the Chicken Run that are growing well but don’t quite compare to these two. It is great getting back into full swing working on this project and as I’ll post about soon all of this is about to get both easier and harder at the same time.

While some may see my focus on progressing this project as an obsession I like to think of it as my Sweety does, Karen says that “Chicken Therapy” is the best thing that has happened to me in a long time.

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Fall Fun?

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The days are finally cooling off a bit and it is back to being pleasurable working in the garden. It is so pleasing to see that the girls are finally getting back to business after 3 floods and a molt.

Todays Haul

It had gotten to where I was lucky to get 2 or 3 eggs a day and now I’m back up to averaging 7 or 8. Last week on craigslist I found a 10’x10′ chain link dog kennel for a very good price that only got better when I picked it up and found that it was brand new! Maybe tomorrow I will start on separating my Chicken Run into three sections. The plan is to have a central area with the Coop, Duck Pond, Feeders, and Waterers with a large foraging section on either side. What I am envisioning is the flock only having access to one flanking section at a time while the unoccupied section has some type of pasture recovering/growing in it.

Pumpkin Patch?

Will they eat it?

Today I started cleaning up the tangled mess of Pumpkin vines between the Orchard rows. In the Upper picture you can see that I found quite a few pumpkins that the girls are sure to like come winter. The Comfrey that I planted earlier in the year is doing quite well and I even found a Swiss Chard plant that I had forgotten still plugging along.

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Hurray the work weeks over! Now let’s get to work.

 

The soil at my Orchard site is terrible, rocky, alkaline, and mostly clay. A big part of my efforts are towards soil improvement, from the mulch bed covering the entire area to the sub-surface greywater system that keeps the soil/mulch interface moist. Thinking about it almost all of my current efforts are going towards that goal. Reading the-real-bounty-of-the-coop on the excellent blog Northwest Edible Life made me realize how valuable that messy chicken run is. I practice the deep litter method in my 8’x10′ chicken coop, hold on a sec, doesn’t “deep litter method” sound awfully snooty? You can read all 33 pages of that article I linked to on BYC but in reality the “method” is all about lazy, but it works! If you keep a 6″ + deep bed of wood chips, pine shavings, or what have you in your coop it absorbs the moisture from the poop and helps keep the smell down. In addition it starts breaking down and really fires off when put in a compost pile. My coop sits up on 4×4 skids and the chickens slowly kick the shredded tree service mulch out under the walls, so about once a month I rake all of the stuff up outta the run area, toss it in my composter, and liberally wet it all down with duck pond water. Tomorrow is time to haul one bin’s worth out of the run and pile it up to mellow for a bit in the orchard area, turn the other bin into the now empty bin, then refill that bin with the scmutz from the run. I was thinking of using that batch of compost for my other task on schedule for tomorrow but I think I’m going to save it for my new half-assed hugelkulure bed that will be on the work ticket in a month or so.

Comfrey…..that is the focus of this weekends second project. Simpleunhookedliving along with Milkwood have both recently had excellent blog posts about Comfrey that are well worth the read.

This is one of the 4 plants my Sweety, Karen, got me from the Korean nursery in Pomona. I have no idea what variety they are but I do know that they are growing like mad and my chickens love the leaves. I searched all over the web for more and finally found some being sold by a true believer at Coes Comfrey. Coes site is a wealth of information and the owner, Tom, is an incredibly interesting guy to talk to. Tom prefers doing business by phone 828-321-4913 which is kinda ironic because his website is really well done. I ended up ordering 10 one year old plants that should be here saturday or monday at the latest. Thats where the work comes in, Tom recommends planting Comfrey in “fertile holes”, basically a 2′ diameter hole as deep as you can dig it, he even suggested using a post hole digger to let the tap root get off to a good start. I got too many rocks to get to deep but I am going to do my best and backfill the holes with steer manure and chicken poop. Everything I have read says that Comfrey can handle very potent fertilizer without burning, this includes fresh chicken manure and straight urine and I’m gonna find out. I have been “watering” my other Comfrey plants whenever the need arises and they are doing great.

What’s all this Comfrey for?

  • Chicken Feed: This stuff is very high in protein and my girls love it
  • Compost: It is also very high in nitrogen and low in fiber and is supposed to make a great activator for your pile
  • Mulch: Comfrey is a bio-accumulator and through it’s tap root mines nutrients and minerals from down deep
  • Fertilizer: When packed in 5 gallon buckets and allowed to break down for a month or so crates a nasty goo that when cut with water is supposed to be a great organic fertilizer

So hopefully with the help of my nephew Steven I’ll get a lot accomplished and have some nice pictures to post on here Sunday!

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Focus!

A little bit of self-examination tells me that I am focusing a bit to much on the “evil egg eaters” and have been letting them drive my agenda. This evil chicken cult is obviously a secret society with a much larger agenda than uninitiated neophytes like myself can truly comprehend. In fact I find myself obsessively watching Ancient Aliens on the History Channel hoping that Giorgio Tsoukalos will just lay out the facts that prove once and for all that the only explanation for this phenomenon is “space aliens”.

Squirrel

Did I ever tell you about the awesome present my sister Lorri brings me every year at Christmas time? (insider tip: click on Lorri’s name to see a really awesome blog!) Here are some pictures, see if you can guess what it is.

If you guessed Prosciutto de Parma your some kind of italophilia foodie wannabe, Jamón ibérico? a clueless foodie snob of the worst kind! Wheres the black foot? Duhhhhhh. Maybe the delicately aged hind quarter from a road killed white tail? Go back to the bayou you poor uneducated excuse for a Redneck!!

 

This here is a fine aged Country Ham! A whole leg of salty goodness with just a touch of that lovely mold inspired FUNK! I skinned it saturday and gave my chooks the rind, wholly moly them girls appreciate a fine southern delicacy. They scarfed, running around for a couple hours stealin choice bits from each other.

Squirrel

The next bit of fodder to analyze is Comfrey. Every garden guru here in Vegas either looked at me like I was stupid or told me that it won’t grow here when asked about Comfrey. As I mentioned in a previous post my Sweety, Karen, got me 4 comfrey plants during our adventure to the Pomona Bird Mart back at the end of June. These plants survived (barely) a trip back to Vegas in the back of our pickup, then sweltered in record heat on our front porch for a week before being put in the ground July 1st. By that time they each had 3 or 4 inch long leaves left and those were wilted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above are those same plants 2 weeks later, why are they doing so well? I bet you that space aliens are peeing on them when they come down every night to plot nefarious deeds with the “evil egg eating” minions! I am pretty sure that I heard Giorgio mention that Space Alien urine is super high in nitrogen and phosphorus due to their exposure to cosmic radiation. And speaking of fodder my chickens love this stuff. I have been plucking 1 or 2 leaves a day from each plant and the girls gobble it down before the swiss chard.

Squirrel

Well I think I have worked myself out of my self induced anxiety attack and can now go back to chillin with my Sweety, Karen, and darling little light of my life Alexa.

Nitey Nite

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Update! Schmupdate:(

A week of plusses and minuses. On the plus side my two new Mulberry Trees are doing great! They have already started putting out new growth, they do appear droopy at mid-day but by morning they are perky as can be. Currently I am watering them daily and probably will for the next couple of weeks, by the end of July I hope to have them down to an every other day watering cycle. All four of the comfrey plants are sending up new leaves and seem to be doing well on the greywater irrigation system. I did hit all of them with a shot of miracle grow solution with a bit of Sprint 138 Iron Chelate thrown in  for good measure.

I have mentioned Sprint 138 on this blog before but it bears repeating, this stuff is great! Expensive yes, but it works to correct chlorosis caused by Iron deficiency extremely fast and effectively. Our soil here is heavy clay and very alkaline, two things that hinder plants access to iron. I have used Ironite and Sulfur but neither one work very well in our soils and what little gain you get is gone by the next year. As of now I can’t talk about the longevity of Sprint 138’s effects but I can say that a week after applying a half a shot glass of the stuff around the base of a bunch of anemic looking yellow leafed fruit trees they were a healthy dark green.

On the Minus side I may have caught one of my egg eatin bastards but I ain’t caught em all yet! I still got eggs disappearing even with a couple that I caught red-handed, so I’m moving on to phase II.

Over on the TBN Ranch Blog I read some good information about controlling this nasty habit. My Granddaughter, Alexa, is going to help by collecting eggs more often, My sweety, Karen, is going to make a couple of mustard filled eggs, and I installed privacy screens over all of the nest boxes today. I am leaning toward the outta sight outta mind theory, in the juvenile pen where all of the suspects, and convicted felons are hanging out I have been getting 4-5 eggs a day out of 6 hens and no evidence of pecked eggs. I believe that even though there are proven egg eaters in there they aren’t breaking them because they can’t walk by and see the eggs in the back of the pet carrier they are laying in.

Another minus was the loss of the two spraddle legged Barnevelders I mentioned last week. Realistically their loss at this stage is more of a -/+ in that their passing now saves them a lot of suffering for little gain.

On the plus side is the 2 healthy Barnies I still have!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also started a new fermented feed batch, I dumped out and thoroughly cleaned my buckets, enlarged the drain holes a bit then put fresh scratch in the inner bucket. This time I am starting the fermentation culture with both Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) and Yeast. The yeast was just plain old bread yeast that I proofed in some warm water with a bit of sugar, when it was good and frothy I dumped it on the scratch and filled the buckets with just enough water to cover. After working in the orchard for a half hour or so the mix was bubbling slowly and smelling yeasty so in went about a cup of ACV and a 1/4 cup of brown sugar for good measure. This batch is gonna set till at least Monday and maybe longer so it gets a good start. Additionally I found a bag of raw soybeans in the barn, so I boiled 2 cups of those to toss in the batch to boost the protein.

It’s been hot as hell here lately and fixin to get humid due to the monsoons sweeping up outta Arizona, but I gotta say that even a smoking hot, muggy, sweaty day spent working in the Orchard/Chicken is hard to beat!

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Caught the Bastard……I think

My egg production had dropped precipitously, 3 weeks ago I was collecting a dozen a day then it dropped to only 1 or 2 eggs a day seemingly overnight. For a while I just ignored it thinking that it was the heat. Last weekend it penetrated my thick skull that there were eggshell pieces in the litter inside the coop, I got an Egg Eater!! What to do? 

I rounded up the usual suspects, these three are always malingering in the hen house just looking guilty so Wham! They went into the juvenile pen. What happened? Three eggs in the little pet carrier the quail hide in inside the juvenile pen but only 1 egg in the henhouse and no telltale shells in the litter.

So I targeted the shifty looking ones next. Brian, one of my trusted minions, was sent on a midnight raid to round them up. This group consisted of the remaining three easter eggers. Did this rectify the problem? NO!! All it did was add some green eggs to the daily hoard in the quail box! What to do? Run a sting operation, Thats What!

Yesterday while planting my new fruiting Mulberry Trees, I note “fruiting” here because fruitless Mulberry Trees have been outlawed in Las Vegas, I placed 2 chicken eggs from the quail box into one of the nest boxes in the henhouse. There was also one egg in a nest in the corner of the henhouse that I left alone due to the fact that there was one very angry duck sitting on it. I kept my eye on the bait box, kinda like a bait car for chickens, while doing my chores in the orchard but other than a couple of nosy Nora’s nothing happened. I collected the eggs from the nest box and left the angry duck to her sitting.

This morning I went back up to water my Mulberry Tree’s and Comfrey plants that I set out yesterday. Additionally I had potted up a couple of trimmings from the Mulberry’s and some Oldham Bamboo culms that I am hoping will root that need a drink. When I checked the henhouse the angry duck was gone as was her egg! I looked but couldn’t find any shells around nor did any of the nest boxes contain any eggs. In the juvenile pen were three eggs in the quail box, so i reset the trap just like yesterday. I had a big black sex-link hen that was hovering around watching me, so I made an unsuccessful attempt to catch her but then promptly forgot her. After starting the hose I went up to the house to fill the surge tank and got sucked into fixing the dryer for my sons fiancé.

That took about a half hour and when I got back down to the orchard what do I see? A big black feathered butt stickin out of the baited nest box! Hurrying into the henhouse I grabbed the hen and sure enough it was the same black sex-link, and in the nest box was a freshly pecked open egg.

Now I have a confirmed egg-eater on lockdown in the juvenile pen. Only time will tell if this problem has spread to the other girls in my flock but for now I’m hopeful that the main culprit has been uncovered. If my egg production in the henhouse goes back up this week I plan on releasing the earlier suspects one at a time back into the general population. Those girls ain’t off the hook yet though, they’re gonna have to prove their innocence before a full reprieve from the Santa Ria priest is given! As to the fate of the one I caught red-handed, or should I say yellow-beaked, maybe my minion and I will try our hand at butchering our first chicken. One things for sure she is not going back into my chicken yard!

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Barney(s), Comfrey, and Mullberry’s

My Barney hatching went off OK I guess. A 25% hatch rate ain’t great but at least I got 4 cute little Barnevelder chicks in the brooder. WOW that sucks! I just went in to take a picture of my 4 Barney’s and noticed that two of them are having leg issues. 😦 Karen and I just put hobbles on them but I don’t have very big expectations, I tried this once before and all it did was delay the inevitable.

You can see the one in the foreground that is rocked back on his bum, him and the one behind him are the two having issues. They were fine yesterday, I wonder if I am doing something wrong during incubation? Karen thinks maybe the flock they came from is inbred? If you have any ideas let me know!

Tomorrow I am going to plant my two Mulberry trees, one positioned on the west end of my orchard to provide shade from our brutal afternoon sun. The other I am going to plant just on the outside of the Chicken run so that eventually its canopy will overhang the run to provide some shade and drop fruit into the run. Both trees need a little trimming so I bought some rooting hormone and am going to try propagating a couple new trees. While I’m at it I am going to cut a stalk from my Timber Bamboo and try potting up several cuttings to see if I can get the start of a windbreak going.

The 4 comfrey plants are going to be planted in my orchard, two at the head of the lanes between the first two rows. I think I am going to put the last two at the bottom of the center two lanes where the ground dips a bit causing the area to be a little moister than the rest. I’m not quite sure on that though, the idea of putting in a fourth 4’x4′ raised bed keeps popping back up in my head so we’ll see.

Lastly I am struggling with an egg eater(s), I have isolated the likely culprits but my egg production hasn’t gone back up. Before putting them in quarantine I would find 4 or 5 broken eggs a day now I’m not finding any broken eggs or shell remnants but am only finding 1 or 2 eggs daily.

If you have any advice I could sure use it on any of these issues.

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